Culver City, California Considers a Microgrid Following Move to Community Aggregation

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Culver City, California, better known as the home of movie studios, is setting the stage to host a microgrid, with a feasibility study underway by Willdan Group.

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The city plans to pursue the microgrid for two main reasons: “We want to save money and energy,” said Charles Herbertson, Culver City’s public works director and engineer. The city also wants to green its energy supply.

Some time ago, Culver City identified a good location for a solar project, the parking lot and roof of the city’s senior center.

“We’re expanding that idea to a microgrid,” Herbertson said. The microgrid would combine solar power with battery storage to achieve several goals at once for Culver City.

Microgrid for critical services, peak shaving

The microgrid would provide back-up power during emergencies for facilities like the city’s senior center and its veteran’s center, as well as for critical services such as police and fire. The system could also help the city save on its energy bill, especially if the battery system could be used for peak shaving.

In addition, the city sees the microgrid as away to help achieve net zero energy goals it set for itself.

Clean energy goals prompted the city’s move one year ago when it joined the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy Authority, later renamed the Clean Power Alliance of Southern California (CPA), a community choice aggregator of 29 cities and two counties in Southern California.

Joining community aggregation

Under the agreement with CPA, Culver City would still be served by Southern California Edison (SCE) distribution and transmission lines, but it would source its electric supply from CPA.

Herbertson said Culver City wanted to be more aggressive in its adoption of renewable energy. So, the city council not only voted to bring in CPA but to use the 100 percent green energy tier of service as the default option.

Culver City designed aggregation participation as an opt-out program. So, unless customers opt out of the aggregation, they will be signed up for CPA’s 100 percent renewable supply tier. The CPA plans to begin offering electric service to Culver City in early 2019.

CPA offers tiers at 36 percent, 50 percent and 100 percent renewable power. The lowest tier provides customers cost savings of about 1 percent to 2 percent over SCE rates, while the 100 percent tier is between 7 percent and 9 percent more expensive than SCE rates.

Most SCE customers are now enrolled in the utility’s base tier, which offers 34 percent renewable energy.

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Microgrid feasibility results next year

Herbertson said it is too early to say how large the solar array might be. That will depend on the results of the feasibility study, which is expected to be completed early in 2019.

As part of the study, Willdan will develop a preliminary design that meets the city’s technical, operating, and financial needs. Willdan also will provide the city with financial and environmental metrics, an implementation roadmap, and specifications to assist in grant applications and bid procurement should the next phase of the project be approved.

“As long as it’s not a non-starter, we are going to proceed,” Herbertson said.

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“We’ve provided the city with engineering services and municipal staffing for many years and are familiar with the city’s infrastructure and operations,” Tom Brisbin, Willdan’s CEO and chairman, said in a statement. “We plan to work closely with the local electric utility to identify and remove roadblocks to commercializing microgrids in the State of California.”

Another California city, Carson, which is also in Los Angeles County, in early September rejected a proposed microgrid. The microgrid, proposed by Charge Bliss, had won a $1.5 million grant from the California Energy Commission and was eligible to compete for an additional $10 million from the CEC. But the city council rejected the proposed microgrid, citing concerns about profit sharing agreements, ownership of renewable energy credits, responsibility for equipment at the end of the 20-year contract, and overall costs. The city also wanted the developer to reduce project costs from $20 million to $15 million.

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